The Somali-British writer Nadifa Mohamed has won the Wales Book of the Year for her novel The Fortune Men (Viking/Penguin). The novel was also awarded the Rhys Davies Trust Fiction Award and the Wales Arts Review People’s Choice Award, before going on to win the overall award and the crowning title of Wales Book of the Year 2022. Mohamed receives a total prize of £4,000 for all three awards.
The novel is set in Cardiff in the 1950s, around Tiger Bay, and is based on the true story of Mahmood Mattan, a well-known ‘face’ in the diverse port which bustled with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen, and Jewish families. Mattan was wrongly accused of murder and the novel is a fictionalised account of events.
Penguin says: ‘When a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried. It is true that he has been getting into trouble more often since his Welsh wife Laura left him. But Mahmood is secure in his innocence in a country where, he thinks, justice is served.
‘It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of freedom dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a terrifying fight for his life – against conspiracy, prejudice, and the inhumanity of the state. And, under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, he begins to realise that the truth may not be enough to save him.’
Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire, describes Mohamed as “a writer of great humanity and intelligence. [She] deeply understands how lives are shaped both by the grand sweep of history and the intimate encounters of human beings.”
Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in 1981 and moved to Britain at the age of four. Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy (HarperCollins) won the Betty Trask Prize, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the PEN Open Book Award. Her second novel, Orchard of Lost Souls (Scribner UK), won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Prix Albert Bernard. She was selected for the Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.